Public lands around J. Strom Thurmond Lake offer a wide variety of habitats for numerous species of mammals, birds, and reptiles. From the 1950s through the 1970s, South Carolina and Georgia Departments of Natural Resources, in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, have made significant strides in wildlife management, to include the reintroduction of white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and Canada geese. In recent years, increased focus has been placed on non-game species, including rare, threatened, and endangered species. Today, sightings of southern bald eagles, migratory waterfowl, and neotropical birds are commonplace.
The goals of the J. Strom Thurmond Project wildlife management program are to maintain habitat diversity, improve habitat for a variety of game and non-game species, encourage and accommodate public use and appreciation of wildlife resources and, in the case of rare, threatened, or endangered species, to provide optimum habitat conditions and/or protection.
Project wide there are 34 wildlife management units ranging in size from 100 to 2,595 acres. Management plans which are prepared for each unit, include specific management objectives, existing activities, and additional work needed. Whenever possible, silvicultural practices such as timber harvesting and prescribed burns are used to accomplish wildlife management objectives. Over 200 food plots are planted in a variety of annual crops, wild fruit trees, and mast producing trees to provide a supplemental source of food for wildlife.
More than 26,000 acres of project lands have been leased to the Georgia and South Carolina Departments of Natural Resources for wildlife management. Both states have active programs for game and non-game species. Partnerships with organizations, such as the National Wild Turkey Federation and Quail Unlimited have been beneficial to expanding wildlife management efforts
Unique to the Southeast is the Bussey Point Management Area. Bussey Point is a 2,545-acre peninsula located at the confluence of the Savannah and Little Rivers in Lincoln Co., GA. The original master plan published in 1950 set aside Bussey Point for wildlife management and limited development based on the wilderness concept. When the land was purchased in 1947, the majority of the area was abandoned farm fields with substantial natural pine regeneration. Natural succession has been allowed to occur relatively undisturbed throughout the area with the intent of eventually obtaining a climax forest. Minor intrusions have been made to limit insect damage and suppress wildfires in order to maintain the integrity of the area and protect adjoining private property. Over 20 miles of trails along with primitive camping and picnic sites offer hikers, cyclist, and horseback riders an excellent opportunity to enjoy this area. Limited primitive weapons hunts are held in the fall and spring to maintain deer and turkey populations within the carrying capacity of the area.
Wildlife Related Links
On May 19, 2015, the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators was released by the White House. The Strategy includes the USACE Pollinator Protection Plan which establishes guidance to promote the health of pollinator species on lands and waters administered by the USACE. At Thurmond Lake, the use of plants beneficial to pollinators in landscaping and the maintenance of wildlife openings was increased. In 2019, the 40-acre Pollinator and Longleaf Pine Habitat Demonstration Area located between the Project Managers Office and Clarks Hill Park was opened to the public. This area provides visitors with the opportunity to learn more about the importance of pollinators and to view firsthand the uniqueness of a longleaf pine habitat.
Websites related to pollinators:
US Forest Service
US Fish & Wildlife Service
Christopher D. Spiller Longleaf Pine & Pollinator Trail
The goals of the J. Strom Thurmond Project fisheries management program are to protect, conserve, and restore aquatic ecosystems, to assist partners in improving the quality and quantity of fishing opportunities, and to encourage and accommodate public use and appreciation of the project's fisheries resources.
Major emphasis is placed on maintaining lake conditions favorable for fish spawning and survival. In the spring, lake level fluctuation is minimized during the spawning periods for largemouth bass and crappie. Additionally, fisheries habitat is improved by maintaining 12 deep-water and numerous shallow water fish attractors, felling trees into the water along the shoreline, and planting flood tolerant plant species along the shoreline.
The Georgia and South Carolina Departments of Natural Resources each maintain 10 deep-water fish attractors. On average, the two state agencies stock more than 490,000 striped bass and 560,000 hybrid bass annually. In addition, they conduct fisheries population studies, provide boat launching areas, fishing piers, and bank fishing areas, and monitor water quality.
Working together, local, state and federal agencies protect Thurmond Lake for future generations and provide some of the best facilities for outdoor recreation in the nation. This includes construction of the Dorn Sport Fishing and Boating Facility, the largest boat ramp complex in the southeastern United States. The area has parking for up to 345 vehicles and trailers, six launching lanes with courtesy docks, an events pier, and a handicapped accessible fishing pier. The area was built by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources with funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and with environmental clearance provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. McCormick County Parks and Recreation Department operate the area.
Fishing Related Links
When land for J. Strom Thurmond Project was purchased in the late 1940s, much of it had been farmed for generations. Unfortunately, poor soil conservation practices resulted in badly depleted soils which could no longer support row crops. The shift from the agrarian lifestyle earlier this century gave the opportunity for some tracts to revert to forest by natural regeneration. From the beginning, management of a healthy forest has been recognized as vital to all other natural resources and recreation management programs.
The goals of the J. Strom Thurmond Project forest management program are to sustain and enhance the health, vigor, and diversity of the project's forest to support recreation and wildlife management programs; protect and improve water quality; facilitate and improve public use and enjoyment of public property; and provide a sustained yield of quality forest products.
Loblolly pine, shortleaf pine, sweet gum, and elm are the dominant tree species on upland areas. Occasionally small patches of upland hardwoods and longleaf pine are interspersed within pine stands where soil conditions permit. Bottomland hardwoods are common along rivers, creeks, and intermittent streams which enter the lake.
Accepted forest management practices, including insect and disease suppression, timber harvesting, prescribed fires, chemical and mechanical site preparation, and regeneration, are methods employed to assure the continuation of the resource. Timber harvest activities are coordinated with state parks, wildlife management agencies, adjoining property owners, and other affected parties to minimize conflicts and to assure mutual goals are met. Revenues generated from the sale of forest products are returned to Thurmond Project to support recreation and natural resources management programs.
Longleaf Pine Management
In recent decades natural resources agencies including federal, state, and NGO’s have increased their focus on the restoration and management of longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) within its original range (an estimated 90 million acres were once found throughout the Southeastern US from Virginia to East Texas). For many years fire suppression and shifts to other species with shorter growing cycles contributed to the decline of habitat historically dominated by longleaf pine. Today, successful restoration of longleaf pine is due in part to improvements in plant genetics, planting techniques, and increased focus on rare species many of which were found only in the longleaf ecosystems. Longleaf pine ecosystems are considered one of the most diverse systems in North America with many flora and fauna which have evolved and flourished in this “fire dependent” forest.
Prescribed fire is an integral part of the life cycle of longleaf and the species that depend on the heath of this ecosystem for their existence. Fire historically passed through these systems on a 3- to 5-year rotation as a result of lightning strikes or human activities. These fires helped to maintain these ecosystems in an open park-like appearance. The groundcover layer consisted of a broad array of herbaceous plants which in many parts of its range included “wiregrass” (Aristida stricta). This plant is important because of the critical role it serves by improving soil structure and providing a fuel source for fire. In the piedmont habitats of Thurmond Lake, wiregrass is replaced by a plant known as broomsedge or bluestem (Andropogon sp.) that provides similar characteristics.
A significant portion of Thurmond Lake is located on the northern edge of the historic range of longleaf pine as noted in the map below. Substantial remnant populations of longleaf pine have been found near Modoc, SC (McCormick County), Shriver Creek and Bussey Point (Lincoln County, GA), and Clarks Hill WMA (McDuffie County, GA). Since 2004, efforts have been undertaken to restore longleaf habitat in locations that have suitable soils and where prescribed burns can be conducted easily on a regular rotation. Restoration of this type of habitat benefits numerous wildlife species that prefer open woodlands, especially bobwhite quail.
Historical longleaf pine distribution at Thurmond Lake
In addition to the areas previously listed, longleaf pines have been planted in the Below Dam, GA Quail Habitat Demonstration Area. As of 2020, over 535 acres have been replanted to longleaf pine. In 2018, the Longleaf Alliance partnered with the Thurmond Project in this effort. Future goals at Thurmond Lake include restoring approximately 2,500 acres of longleaf habitat by 2030.
Website of interest related to longleaf pine:
National Arbor Day Foundation
Aquatic Plant Management - at Richard B. Russell, J. Strom Thurmond and Hartwell Lakes
Aquatic plants are an important component of an aquatic ecosystem, providing habitat for fish and waterfowl. However, when fast–growing plant species become well established, they can reach nuisance levels. This occurs when aquatic plants impact common uses of an impoundment, i.e., hydropower production, recreation, navigation, etc. Management of aquatic vegetation is required to maintain the value of multiple uses in many large reservoirs where nuisance levels of aquatic plants have been reached.
In late 1995, 55 acres of hydrilla, Hydrilla verticillata, were located in J. Strom Thurmond Lake. Hydrilla is considered a noxious aquatic weed throughout much of the United States and typically spreads rapidly, often reaching nuisance levels that require management. In spite of aggressive aquatic herbicide treatments in 1996 and 1997, the known distribution of hydrilla had increased to approximately 3,900 acres by October 2000.
In October and early November 2010, an extensive boat survey of the lake was conducted with assistance from Georgia Department of Natural Resources, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, and Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia. The lake was divided into 9 separate survey routes and sample points were established every 1,760 feet (1/3 mile) along the entire lake shoreline and included selected islands. These points were surveyed for the presence or absence of hydrilla. The survey teams used a two-sided metal garden rake with a rope to drag the lake bottom perpendicular to the shoreline to a depth of approximately 20 feet. If hydrilla was detected visually, the use of the rake was not required. Plant density estimates were produced by surveying 77 transects perpendicular to the shoreline at randomly selected survey points where hydrilla was detected during the rake sampling. These density samples were collected using a BioSonics DT-X Echosounder with a 420 khz digital transducer. BioSonics Visual Acquisition software was used to analyze the echograms and estimate plant density at each sample point. Findings were mapped in ArcView using 1-foot bathometry data acquired from Navionics, Inc.
Hydrilla is present along 641 miles of shoreline. The majority of plant growth occurs in water depths less than 15 feet. On average, hydrilla was found to occupy 44% of the available habitat where it is present. This represents 7% of the total lake surface at normal summer elevation of 330’msl. Detailed survey results are as follows:
|Estimated Hydrilla Coverage
|Potential Acreage where Hydrilla is Present
|Potential Acreage where Hydrilla is Absent
|Not Surveyed (shallow areas not accessible by boat, unmarked shoals or un-surveyed islands)
|Total Available Acreage(330' msl to 315' msl)
*All acreage estimates were determined by estimating the area between elevations 330’ msl and 315’ msl using 1-foot contour bathymetry data. Fortunately in Thurmond Lake, hydrilla has not caused many of the problems associated with shallow lakes in the Southeast where it is present. The primary reason is that Thurmond Lake is relatively deep, with an average depth of 36 feet. Hydrilla, typically, cannot grow in waters greater than 20 feet. Second, most of the hydrilla present in the lake is the monoecious variety, which grows laterally along the lake bottom for most of the growing season before growing up to the surface in late August and September. Estimates show that nearly 20 percent to 30 percent of the lake may eventually be affected by hydrilla. The effects will be most noticeable in the larger, shallow coves. It is the goal of the aquatic plant management program to minimize impacts to authorized project purposes caused by nuisance levels of aquatic vegetation. However, all programs must compete for limited funding. Therefore, the Army Corps of Engineers will not be able to treat all areas where aquatic vegetation reaches nuisance levels. Furthermore, as stewards of the taxpayers’ money, it is understood that the benefits derived from treatment should exceed the cost of treatment. It is imperative that strong partnerships with state agencies, county governments, and private concessionaires be formed in order to meet public use demands. The Aquatic Plant Management Plan (APMP) for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District Water Resources Project, South Carolina and Georgia was prepared in 1998 and updated in 2003 in response to the presence of hydrilla in Thurmond Lake as well as other aquatic plants of concern in Hartwell Lake, Richard B. Russell Lake, and the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam. The APMP was coordinated with numerous state, federal, and local interests. The plan establishes treatment priorities based on impacts to authorized Project purposes, funding, treatments by others, and environmental impacts. Treatment plans (APMP Appendix A) are prepared normally in January, based on plant distribution the previous summer and estimated funding. The plans are revised during the summer to reflect changes in plant abundance and available funding.
In September 2013, the University of Georgia, at the request of the Corps, completed a user survey titled “Investigating Stakeholder Perceptions of Aquatic Plant Management on J. Strom Thurmond Lake”. Survey’s primary goal was to sample five user groups (fishing license holders, state waterfowl stamp holders, registered boaters, campground visitors, and shoreline permit holders) from surrounding Georgia and South Carolina counties to evaluate their knowledge of Avian Vascuolar Myelinopathy (AVM) and opinions regarding potential management actions to control nuisance aquatic vegetation, mainly hydrilla. Generally, users were supportive of stocking grass carp to control hydrilla. Before changes can be made to the existing Aquatic Plant Management Plan (APMP), an Environmental Assessment (EA) must be completed. Funding has been requested in FY 14 to initiate the EA, however, it has not been approved.
Boaters are encouraged to make sure their boat trailers, boats, and live wells are free of all aquatic plants before entering or leaving the launching area. Adjoining property owners may treat hydrilla around their docks provided they obtain a permit from the J. Strom Thurmond Project Office. There is no charge for the permit. An individual who is licensed by the state in the aquatic herbicide category must apply the herbicide. Permits are not required for the cutting and removing of aquatic vegetation from around private boat docks and single lane boat channels provided such work is accomplished with hand tools only.
There are numerous other aquatic plants which have the potential to negatively impact Thurmond Lake if they are accidentally introduced. In September 2008, approximately 200 water hyacinth plants were removed from Scotts Creek near Clarks Hill Park. Extensive surveys in 2009 and 2010 did not find addition water hyacinth plants. In 2010, established populations of water primrose and alligatorweed were found in the Little River, SC and Dry Fork Creek, GA portions of the lake. No actions other that to determine the plants distribution were warranted. Other plants of concern include Eurasian water milfoil, water lettuce, and giant salvinia. Lake users finding any of these plants should report them to the Thurmond Lake Office.
For more information on aquatic plants visit the following web site:
Like private companies, state agencies, and local governments, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must follow the numerous public laws which safeguard the environment. Programs and trained personnel are in place to assure compliance with these laws. Prior to any ground disturbing activity at Hartwell Lake, Richard B. Russell, and J. Strom Thurmond Lakes, endangered species surveys, wetlands delineation, and cultural resources surveys are conducted. When concerns are identified, plans are modified to reduce or eliminate possible environmental impacts. For new undertakings not covered by the existing Environmental Impact Statement and Master Plan, either an Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement is prepared as appropriate. Over the past 10 years, numerous changes have been made within the power plant to reduce environmental concerns. Environmental friendly cleaners and lubricants are being used whenever possible. Controls are in place to reduce the potential of a lubricant spill into the Savannah River below the dam. Finally, whenever hazardous materials must be disposed of, it is done so in accordance with all federal and state laws. The public is encouraged to take an active role in environmental stewardship at the lake during each and every visit by protecting the land and water from trash, gray water, and other pollutants. Groups and individuals are welcome to volunteer in a variety of capacities to assist in the care of the many resources at the lakes. Annual lake clean-ups take place each August - September at J. Strom Thurmond, Richard B. Russell and Hartwell Lakes. To reach the Volunteer Coordinators call the appropriate lake office.
Link to Thurmond and Hartwell Environmental Policy (EMS)